Turns Out I’m Not a Serious Novelist

Before I wrote Mercury Falls, I made several abortive attempts to write a “serious” science fiction novel. I came up with what I thought were some pretty good ideas, but once I got beyond the planning stage and started writing, I found the process excruciating. The problem with writing a serious novel is that to make it work, you have to have a pretty good idea what the finished product is going to look like. And that generally means lots of planning before you start writing and then sticking to that plan, with minimal variation. So the actual writing is mostly rote work, getting the story from Plot Point One to Plot Point Two. If you’re primarily a language stylist who has fun just playing around with words and literary devices, I can see how going from Plot Point One to Plot Point Two might be an enjoyable trip, but for me it’s sheer torture. I’m not a literary writer. I like language, but I use it almost solely to convey ideas, not to evoke an emotional reaction through my subtle use of poetic devices. I’m poetically tone-deaf. 

After writing four humorous novels, though, I thought I was ready for something different. My next project was a mostly-serious novel called Schrodinger’s Gat, which I think turned out pretty well. Schrodinger’s Gat is sort of an anomaly, though; it kept my interest because although I had the plot pretty much worked out, I was exploring the philosophical ramifications of quantum theory while I was writing it. The process of writing never got dull because I kept finding more interesting ideas to explore within the context of the story.

After Schrodinger’s Gat, I figured I was ready to write a serious science fiction novel. I had written a few serious short stories that have been well-received, and I thought maybe I had matured enough that I could force myself to write a non-comical, full-length novel. I had a killer idea: a Philip Dick-esque mystery that takes place in a Silicon Valley town, alternating between the year 2000 and the year 1950. I was going to call it “Bubble.” I spent a couple of weeks researching and outlining the plot. And then today I started to write it. And remembered why I don’t write serious fiction. It’s excruciating. I’ve got 718 words written and all I can think is “Holy crap, I have to do this for 197 more pages?!?!” How do people write 200 pages without throwing in any stupid puns, non-sequiter smartass comments or Star Wars references? Seriously, why would anyone put themselves through this? I’d rather work on my sprinklers.

Anyway, Bubble is DOA. I wish I could write it, because I really do like the idea, but there’s just no way I’m putting myself through this kind of torture. Time to move on to something more my speed.